Tuesday, June 27, 2017

America’s Cup and us

Today Team New Zealand won the America’s Cup, and they’re bringing it back to New Zealand, where the next regatta will be held in 3 or 4 years. There are plenty of people who are ecstatic, others who are indifferent, and also some who are actually hostile. I’m not a fan of sailing, yacht racing, or even boats, truth be known, but I think this is awesome news. This is good for New Zealand in so many ways.

First, it’s important to note what a huge success this is: Team New Zealand had far less funding at its disposal than Oracle Team USA, but they had ingenuity, determination, and, it’s now obvious, the better team. The team included the helmsman, 26-year-old Peter Burling, was the youngest helmsman to win an America’s Cup. It seems like only a few weeks ago that he and fellow TNZ team member, 27-year-old Blair Tuke, won gold at the Rio Olympics.

Many pundits have been blathering on, as they do, about how this win is yet another example of New Zealand “punching well above its weight” on the world stage, and trite and cliché though that is, in this case it’s actually true.

Many of the normal participants in the America’s Cup Regatta opted out this year because of the unfairness of the rules, which Oracle Team USA wrote to benefit themselves. Many sailing experts still blame them for the “creative” rules in 2013 that saw Team New Zealand go from 8-1 races won—only one race away from taking back the America’s Cup—to losing 8-9 (after the race committee ordered the race that would have sealed victory for Team New Zealand abandoned because it “went on too long”). But Team Zealand didn’t dwell on that, and focused instead on building a better boat and superior team, and to put them together with other technology to win. When New Zealand succeeds in something big internationally, this is how it usually happens.

Despite all that, it’s fair to say that most people don’t pay much attention to yacht racing, even the America’s Cup. I well remember brief updates on the “CBS Evening News” when I was young, but even I don’t remember hearing about New Zealand winning the Cup back in 1995, though when I moved here I sometimes told American friends I was moving here “to look after the America’s Cup.” I’m not sure how many of them even knew what I was talking about, much less found that as funny as I did. Humour, and knowledge of current events, varies.

The most frequent criticism levelled against the America’s Cup is that it’s a “rich man’s game”, and that used to be fair since the very rich had always been the people behind the racing. Nowadays, though, that’s not true, and it’s corporate sponsorships that pay for the racing campaigns (Team New Zealand’s main sponsor is Emirates Airlines, but almost no one in New Zealand ever refers to them as “Emirates Team New Zealand”, even though that’s actually their name; we’re a bit contrary like that here).

But all racing regattas also involved government money somewhere, and that’s true for Team New Zealand and the two defences in Auckland (2000 and 2003), and Team New Zealand’s ill-fated challenge in 2013. What did we get out of that?

In Auckland, an area known as Viaduct Harbour (also called Viaduct Basin) was extensively re-developed, first for the bases of the America’s Cup teams, then, after 2003, it was turned into Auckland’s premier restaurant and nightlife area. It’s now a stunning place. But, there was much more benefit than just that.

According to the NZ Government, the 2000 defence alone “generated $640 million of value added in the New Zealand economy” as well as “$473 million of value added in the economy of the Auckland region”. For a small country like New Zealand, that’s big money—and just for one of the regattas, the first held in New Zealand.

According to Tourism New Zealand:
The two America’s Cup events in Auckland were conservatively worth NZ$1.2 billion to the economy with economic impact reports stating a two-dollar return for each dollar invested.
Much of this activity was direct—money spent by the various teams—and a lot was indirect, such as infrastructure improvements, increased employment by companies supplying the teams and regatta, additional tourism, and all the tax revenue that created. So, the economic benefits to Auckland and New Zealand were enormous.

What will the defence of the America’s Cup bring us this time? Similar dollar amounts, sure, but it will depend on where the defence is based. If it’s in Auckland, it could finally spur redevelopment of “Tank Farm”, an unsightly collection of fluid tanks between the Auckland Harbour Bridge and Viaduct Harbour—prime harbourside land, in other words.

A challenger series will bring tourists to New Zealand, and, yes, many of them will be wealthy, which means they’ll be able to spend up large. This is very good for the economy. But it may also spur tourism-related work, such as hotel upgrades, and maybe even a start on the rail link to Auckland Airport, something that the current government refuses to start for another 30 years (!). And, of course, there will be a benefit from the exposure the regatta will bring, enticing some tourists to visit.

There will be more related benefit, too, such as employment: The people employed in the hospitality industry, by suppliers to the racing syndicates, and even to the boat building industry, which gained a lot from the previous America’s Cup races in Auckland. An increase in jobs is always a good thing.

We have gained other things, too. For example, when Rocket Lab launched it’s first rocket from New Zealand (which I mentioned in May), their first ever in the world all-carbon composite rocket was “devised with some of the knowledge and experience garnered from America’s Cup campaigns past.”

So, here we are again: Holders of the America’s Cup, and playing host to a regatta that will have fair rules and fair competition. The country will benefit from the regatta in many ways, and some people will oppose it. All of this is the New Zealand Way—as it should be.

Congratulations Emirates Team New Zealand for winning, and for doing so the Kiwi way.

Related: “America's Cup” – New Zealand History, a project of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage

Photo: Emirates Team New Zealand sail past Rangitoto Island in Waitemata Harbour, off Auckland. Credit: Chris Cameron www.etnzblog.com [CC-BY-SA; Via NewZealand.com]

Monday, June 26, 2017

Taste Test: Substitute naughtiness

Like a lot of people, I may try new food and drink products as they’re released, if it’s something I might be interested in, anyway, but I don’t normally blog about it. Truth is, I have no idea why I don’t, so it’s time to change that with a new product from Coca-Cola.

Today I tried Coca-Cola No Sugar, yet another sugar-free version of Coke, this one, the company thinks, being the closest yet to the sugar-full version. New Zealand is the third country to get the new product, after Mexico and Spain.

The company was so eager for people to try the new product that they decided to give out some 200,000 free samples around New Zealand, according to Newshub. I have no idea whether that’s a lot or not, but I can say this: I bought my own drink at a store—it wasn’t free.

This is actually the second time I tested the product. The first time, I compared it to Coke Zero, because it’s the version I normally drink, and because I don’t drink “real” coke. At the time, I reasoned that since that’s the case, it didn’t really matter much to me whether it tastes a lot like the original. But the company’s whole focus was on its comparison to—ahem—the real thing, so I realised it was unfair to not include that. But, to be totally fair, I’d have to add Diet Coke, too. This became way more complicated than I’d planned.

So today I went and bought a 300ml bottle of each Coke variant and, after taking the photo above, set about the comparison.

For each bottle, I opened it, let the gas out, then sniffed it to see if it had a smell (“bouquet”?). I tried a sip as I’d normally have one—I didn't leave it in my mouth because that can irritate my tongue, and I didn’t slurp it like wine. Instead, I treated it as if I was drinking it normally.

Between each bottle, I had some water, rinsed my mouth, ate a couple plain salty but otherwise unflavoured potato chips, and rinsed with water again. I chose potato chips because they’re relatively bland, and because I often drink cola when I’m having a meal with potato chips or fries. I also felt the saltiness would make sure I wasn’t desensitised to sweetness in the various drinks.

I sampled each drink in the order they were originally released (left to right in the photo), and sampled them each three times. This is from my notes (energy content per 300ml is what was printed on the label of each bottle):

Coca-Cola Original (540kj per 300ml): Smells like Coke, tastes like what Coke should be. After one sip, there’s a hit of very sugary sweetness and a mouthfeel of syrupiness. The carbonation was the gentlest of the three.

Diet Coke (4.5kj per 300ml): Little to no smell, a sharp sweetness mixed with strong carbonation. The taste seemed slightly bitter and metallic—“fake”, if you like—but was definitely lighter mouthfeel than original Coke.

Coke Zero (4.2kj per 300ml): I’ll admit upfront that I’d always assumed that this and Diet Coke were just different packages of the exact same thing, but, maybe not: Coke Zero had a very slight/light citrus smell. While it doesn’t seem as sharply sweet as Diet Coke, it did also taste slightly metallic. However, it was not as metallic/bitter as Diet Coke—not as “fake”, I suppose. The carbonation was not as strong as in Diet Coke, and that may be why it had a lighter mouthfeel than Diet Coke.

Coca-Cola No Sugar (4.2kj per 300ml): The guest of honour at today’s test kitchen had a slightly bitter smell, but that wasn’t reflected in the taste. It had very strong carbonation and a slightly acidic mouth feel, possibly due in whole or in part to that carbonation. To me, it basically tastes the same as Coke Zero, but less sweet and less bitter than Diet Coke.

My conclusion is that, no, Coke No Sugar is not like the original sugar-full version, but is more like Coke Zero than it is like either the original or Diet Coke versions.

All three Cokes without sugar use aspartame (sweetener 951) and Acesulfame K (sweetener 950). Like saccharin, Acesulfame K can be somewhat bitter. It could be that the specific balance of sweeteners accounts for the flavour variations, especially the relative bitterness, or maybe not. I should add, too, that original coke in New Zealand uses cane sugar alone, and always has.

While I only drink sugar-free fizzy drinks, I don’t drink any kind very frequently. In fact, I’m far more likely to have soda water with a bit of fresh lemon rather than any commercial product. Nevertheless, if I’m going to have a cola product, I’d definitely consider Coke No Sugar as a choice, but, to be honest, I’d probably choose Coke Zero first: There are reasons I prefer it over Diet Coke and the original version, after all.

Finally, it’s important to point out the bleedin’ obvious: The non-science here. I’m not any sort of professional taster, nor did I use double blind sampling nor any controls. This is not intended as an objective or even remotely scientific evaluation: It’s just me taste-testing the latest variety of one of my favourite treat foods and reporting what I found. Your determination, gentle Coke-sipping reader, may be completely different from mine, and that’s okay: I don’t see why Arthur’s Law can’t apply to food tastes, too.

This was all a bit of fun, really—and a good excuse to try the new Coke product. As luck would have it, this also gave me a topic for a blog post—wins abound. Now pardon me while I go and finish some of my Coke products: They won’t stay fresh forever once the bottle has been opened, and I don’t want to waste any!

The products tested, their names, and their bottle shapes, are all registered trademarks of The Coca-Cola Company, and are used here for purposes of description and clarity. No company or entity provided any support or payment for this blog post, and all products were purchased by me for this taste test. So, the opinions I expressed are my own genuinely held opinions, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the manufacturer, or the retailer, or any known human being, alive or dead, real or corporate. Just so we’re clear.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Old Tunes, Part 1

Photos of our past are nice, moving images and audio recordings are even better in some ways. But when one grows up with neither, is there a way to capture at least some of the look and sound of our youth? I recently came across something that sort of did that for me.

When I was a kid, I envied friends whose families had home movies. Sure, they were silent, but those families could see people actually move, and that seemed kind of magical to me. A generation later, families started making home videos, but we didn’t do that, either.

There are photos of me in my childhood and youth, but no film/video, and no audio recordings. So, I don’t know what my family and I sounded like decades ago, nor how we moved, nor do I know what I was like in the first years of my independent life.

Recently, I was going through boxes of papers to determine what had to be filed, what had to be shredded, and what could just be chucked in the rubbish. And, a lot of it was rubbish, too—but one thing caught my eye: It was a list of songs that I’d written down at some point (the front page of that list is the photo above). This was something I’d done a lot in the 1980s as a way of remembering songs I might like to buy.

This particular list has moved around with me for decades, most of that time in my address book, something I haven’t used for years. At some point I put it aside to check out later, and then never did.

I don’t remember making this specific list, but I know it must have been in 1987—thirty years ago, give or take. It was written on a sheet of notepaper that my boss printed up to give away to customers, and I had some by my phone. Looking at it, I suspect I was watching MTV’s “120 Minutes”, at the time one of my favourite shows, which aired videos from the “alternative” genre of music, what I was into in those days. Judging by the deterioration in my handwriting as the list went on, I suspect I may have been drinking at the time, too. I was still in my 20s. It happened.

In any case, that list is a snapshot of sorts into what music appealed to me one night in 1987. Sure, I still know a lot of the music I liked in that same era, but this list is an actual record of my personal history, and it’s the closest I’ll ever get to knowing what one of my nights would have sounded like back then.

So, this week and next I’ll share those songs and what I was thinking, if I even know, when I put them on the list.

First up is Sonic Youth “Schizophrenia”, from their 1987 album, Sister. This wasn’t a single, but an album track, and this isn’t an actual video:

The next item on the list is the most enigmatic: It mere says “The Wolfgang Press”, with no song listed. I have NO idea what song it would’ve been. I listened to a few of their songs from around 1987 on YouTube and none of them were remotely familiar. The “post-punk, post-industrial” genre isn’t one that would normally be something I’d be into, although that same year I bought Opus Dei by Laibach, as I mentioned several years ago, so anything’s possible.

Next was Visiting Kids’ “Trilobites”. The group, described as “the spawn of Devo” was closely associated with that group. It is pretty surreal on all counts. The video was directed by someone called Rocky Schenck (no relation).

The next song on the list, Echo & the Bunnymen's “Lips Like Sugar”, is crossed out because I later bought the album the song was on, their eponymous fifth studio album, “Echo & the Bunnymen”. I still like the song, though I no longer have the album.

Gene Loves Jezebel - “The Motion Of Love”, one of their better known songs, though I never bought it or anything else by them. Still, it appealed to me at the time.

Finally for this week, “Crazy”, the 1987 single by Icehouse. Icehouse is an Australian band, though I doubt I knew that at the time. This song reached number 4 in Australia, Number 10 in NZ, Number 38 in the UK, and Number 7 in the USA. At the time, I loved this song. This video is the US version, which is what I saw back in the day, of course.

Once I moved to New Zealand, I heard much more of their music, such as 1982’s “Great Southern Land” [WATCH/LISTEN], which never charted in the USA, and also “Electric Blue” [WATCH/LISTEN], which was also released in 1987. I still hear this song on the radio.

That’s all for the first page of that note to myself from thirty years ago. Next week, the rest of that list.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Tenth ‘Faceversary’

Ten years ago today I joined Facebook. I knew this was coming up, but Facebook itself reminded me of it: When I looked at Facebook this morning, I saw the graphic at left. It was for a video celebrating the event, which I reviewed and then posted.

The only time, I think, that I talked at any length about this anniversary, and why I joined Facebook, was back in 2013. The important parts are that Facebook was actually the third social network I joined (MySpace was first, followed by Twitter), and that I joined them to promote my podcast. While that use declined over time, Facebook itself has become useful for me for other reasons, and it still is.

Facebook is far from perfect—a bit like those of us who use it, actually—but it does some things right, things I’ve talked about on this blog. Among them are those silly little videos like the one I was presented with today. Utterly unimportant, not terribly useful, really, but kinda fun all the same. It’s also positive and upbeat, which wins points from me.

So, I’ve spent a decade using Facebook, though there’s very little of that I remember in any great detail. Fortunately, I’ve blogged about some of that, too, which is how I can know about some of the Facebook shenanigans I’ve gotten up to over the past decade. I guess that’s a good thing.

So: First decade on Facebook is done. Will there be a 20th ‘Faceversay’? If there is, it better get a lot of “Likes”!

‘The Americans Are Coming’

Apparently New Zealand is the new "it" country for Americans. Who knew?! I actually pretty much agree with what the presenter says about New Zealand in the video above. It’s fairly light-hearted approach tries to explain why so many Americans want to move to New Zealand. It does a good job.

This piece has a very specific person—explaining why New Zealand is an appealing place to move to from the perspective of recently arrived American expats, or those who hope to become one. As such, it’s enlightening. The fact that it doesn’t really talk about problems facing New Zealand isn’t important, in my opinion, since that wasn’t the purpose of the piece: It merely tried to explain why New Zealand is popular with some American émigrés, and not whether it’s a good choice or not.

One thing I do want to push back on, though, is the idea that New Zealand is some sort of “apocalypse insurance”. If the USA starts a nuclear war, we’re all dead. It may take a bit longer for the Southern Hemisphere to be wiped out, but that’s nevertheless inevitable.

However, for other forms of catastrophe, it could be another story. If the USA becomes a fascist dictatorship, or climate change causes famine in the USA, or in the case of any number of other non-world ending scenarios, there may be safety for American expats, at least for a time, in countries like New Zealand. Whether that would be the case or not is purely hypothetical, since there’s no way to test the theory without an actual catastrophe. I think we all agree that we hope there’s no chance to ever test the theory.

So, the video is accurate, more or less, and does a good job of its single purpose: Explaining why so many Americans want to move to New Zealand. In this case, that’s enough.

Tip o’ the Hat to Roger Green, who shared the link to this video in a comment on a post yesterday.

This is how you do it

This is an ad for Randy Bryce, a man seeking the Democratic nomination for US Representative in Wisconsin’s 1st Congressional District. That has national significance because the seat is currently held by Republican Paul Ryan, currently Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and one of the most important people advancing Don’s agenda in the USA. Defeating Ryan would be awesome, a service to the entire nation.

Bryce describes himself as “a U.S. Army veteran, cancer survivor, and union ironworker”, and says he’s running for Congress because “his values are our neighbors’ values, and Washington has gotten way off track”. All of which is true, especially when contrasted with Ryan, Don, and the Republicans. Specifically, Bryce says:
“My mother has multiple sclerosis, my father is in assisted living, and I survived cancer in my 20s to have a miracle child in my 40s… What Paul Ryan and the Republicans are doing to take health care away from millions of us, to make it cost more and cover less, and to allow the protections we’ve gained to be stripped away – it’s just unacceptable.”
Healthcare is one of the issues on which Republicans are most vulnerable. Tens of millions of Americans will lose their health insurance if TrumpCare becomes law, with tens of millions more paying more money for less coverage. Personal bankruptcies, which plummeted dramatically thanks to Obamacare, will soar once again as people lose everything paying for their healthcare. A majority of voters—even in deep red US states—don’t like TrumpCare.

On the other hand, most of the US newsmedia is ignoring the whole thing, just like US Senate Majority leader Mitch McConnell wants it. He’s drafting his bill in super-secret, keeping the details not just from the American people, but also from Democrats in the Senate. He wants to be able to ram it through before anyone has any idea what’s in it.

If McConnell and Senate Republicans succeed in ramming Trumpcare through the Senate, The US House will rubberstamp it and Don will sign it into law. Will 18 months—the rough time until the next Congressional elections—be enough time for Americans to lose their health insurance because of TrumpCare? Will Democrats be able to hold Republicans’ feet to the fire over TrumpCare and the disaster it would mean for millions and millions of Americans? If Democrats can do that, it’ll be by personalising the issue so average voters can identify with it.

And that’s why Bryce’s ad is so good: It talks directly to voters about issues they can personally identify with: Family, hard work, the need for healthcare. He portrays himself as “one of them”, because he is, and that contrasts sharply with Ryan’s elitism and privilege, and although the ad doesn’t make that point directly, voters would get it. Want to reach ordinary voters? This is how you do it.

Republicans always wrap their election messages in appeals to fear of “the other”—immigrants, Muslims, terrorists, LGBT people, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Liberals, Democrats, and so many more. Democrats can appeal to the very real and justified fears of what Don and the Republicans are doing to ordinary voters and their families. But, unlike Republicans, Democrats also need to provide real, concrete, and achievable solutions that will make things better for individual voters and their families. Let Republicans be negative, non-specific, and unfocused, but Democrats must always be positive, specific, focused, and appeal directly to the voters in a way they can identify with.

I have no idea whether Randy Bryce is a good candidate overall, who the other Democratic candidates will be, or who, ultimately, will be the Democratic nominee to take on Paul Ryan. Ryan is vulnerable for being smug, arrogant, selfish, and privileged, sure, but mainly for what he, Don and the Republicans are trying to do to harm the very people Ryan claims to represent in Congress. Defeating Ryan, no matter who does it, would be performing a service to the entire nation.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The shortest day

Today was the shortest day of the year. Well, the day wasn’t actually any shorter, of course, but in one sense it was. And that confusion is only compounded when people contemplate when seasons will change. Or the weather.

The June Solstice arrived in New Zealand at 4:24pm this afternoon. That means that today had the shortest amount of daylight hours for the year, and now the days all start getting longer (it’s the exact opposite for our poor friends in the Northern Hemisphere). It’s the shortness of daylight hours people are referring to when they talk about “the shortest day”, and while I would’ve thought that was bloody obvious, apparently for some it isn’t.

Solstices and equinoxes also have nothing to do with weather—they merely mark the sun’s position north and south of the equator thanks to the earth’s axial tilt. Put another way, in a sense it’s really kind of imaginary: The sun is where it always is and the only thing that changes is whether the top of the earth is tilting toward the sun or away from it.

The talk of days getting longer or shorter is also kind of pointless. First, right after the solstice the changes are seconds or a minute, eventually increasing a little bit. But because the speed of change is so slow, neither winter nor summer end just because of a solstice.

In fact, some of the worst winter weather in New Zealand is often in July, the month following the solstice. Moreover, true spring weather—as opposed to merely mild weather—doesn’t arrive until maybe September, possibly October, and sometimes not even until November, the month before summer begins. Actually, when we can truly notice there are more hours of daylight, that’s when the weather seems to warm up a bit. Like I said, these astronomical events have very little to do with weather.

Even so, many of us look forward to the winter solstice because it’s a reminder that spring will return. Some of us (well, okay, maybe just me…) like to pretend that the lengthening days are noticeable immediately, and it means we can look forward to the return of warm weather. I wonder, though, will climate change affect that eager anticipation?

This year we mark our winter solstice with a major storm bearing down on us. There will be severe wind and rain in the upper North Island, and snow in the South Island. Yippee.

Overall, Northland, where the storm hits first, Auckland, Bay of Plenty, and, in the South Island, Canterbury, are expected to get the worst of it. Yippee again. We’ve had several storms this autumn and winter, and I’m not keen on another. I’m supposed to go do the grocery shopping tomorrow, and I thought I might make a couple more stops. I think I’ll decide all that based on the weather. It’s not like I don’t have plenty to keep me busy here in the house.

Welcome to the shortest day, Southern Hemisphere 2017 Edition. Pardon me if I don’t break out in spring celebrations quite yet.

The image accompanying this post is a screen grab of something Facebook posted for us Southern Hemisphere folks today. The birds were animated. I also noted that Facebook called it “winter solstice” when “June solstice” is the normally accepted term nowadays. I think they were trying to go all local on us—even spelling “cosy” the way we do in New Zealand.

Drive one mad

Infographic: Which Side Of The Road Do You Drive On?  | Statista
I get a lot of questions about what life for an immigrant like me is like in New Zealand, how to migrate here, and things about New Zealand in particular, or The Commonwealth, or even the about the Southern Hemisphere in general. One area people are often curious about is driving on “the other side of the road” (from their perspective, of course). But driving on the left side of the road isn’t as rare as some people might think.

The infographic above is from Statista, and which side of the road various countries drive on. Like all maps like this, at first glance it tends to present a somewhat distorted view of the situation.

Nevertheless, two-thirds of the world’s population, living in 163 countries, drives on the right side of the road, while the rest, living in 76 countries, drive on the left side of the road. This is mainly historic. As Statista puts it:
The bulk of countries that drive on the left are former British colonies including South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. Only four countries in Europe still drive on the left and they are all islands. They consist of the UK, the Republic of Ireland, Malta and Cyprus.
Clearly the influence of the British Empire remains active in this area, among others. The thing is, though, that people in those 76 countries are as used to their way as are the people in those 163 countries, so they have no compelling reason to change.

There are two factors that might nudge New Zealand to change. The first is if Japan were to switch, because New Zealand is a major market for used cars from Japan. If that country switched, all their cars would have the steering wheel on the left side of the car, which isn’t appropriate for driving on the left side of the road.

The other factor might be if Australia were to switch, since the two countries have so many business and tourism ties. However, I’m not convinced that a change like that alone would be enough to convince New Zealand to change.

There’s another possible scenario that could force New Zealand, Australia, and many other countries to switch: If left side of the road countries with large populations were to switch sides of the road—say, if the UK, Japan, and India all switched—then there would be little choice for the rest of the left side of the road countries other than to switch. Right-hand drive cars (for use on the left side of the road) are manufactured for use in those 76 countries, but if the big countries switched, there probably wouldn’t be a big enough market for manufacturers to continue to make cars for use on the left side of the road. However, there are companies in New Zealand that specialise in converting cars from left-hand drive to right-hand drive so they can be used here. Maybe that would become a bigger deal, at least for awhile.

The important thing is, though, that there’s no incentive for any country to switch, especially not island nations, or those for whom land links may not be as important or much of a problem. So, it’s pretty unlikely that New Zealand will ever switch.

For me, it actually wasn’t that hard to adjust to driving full-time on the left side of the road, and it’s now second nature. However, there does seem to be a problem with foreign tourists causing crashes by driving on the wrong side of the road. There have been many suggestions for ways to fix that, including some that are pretty heavy-handed, but one thing that’s becoming common everywhere are arrows painted on the road to show which side of the road to drive on, to remind foreign drivers. It’s too early to tell whether that has helped or not.

The fact that New Zealand drives on “the other side of the road” may or may not be interesting in any way, but it’s certainly not the most interesting thing about the country. It’s also not all that unusual. The Internet is a wonderful teacher.

Related: “Linksverkehr”, my 2010 post about getting my New Zealand Driver Licence.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Don’t say

The English language evolves wherever it exists. New words are coined, old words are ignored or take on new meanings, fads and fashions come and go, taking their slang with them—all that and more. But sometimes words cans shift within a culture because of the influence of another culture. I’ve seen that happen here in New Zealand over the past two decades.

Most of the change I’ve seen has been predictable: The ordinary rise and fall of words as fashions change. For example, when I first arrived in 1995, many Kiwis used the word “heaps” to mean “a lot”, as in, “I saw heaps of stars last night”. Use of that word has become rarer over time, but it’s still around. Less so the phrase “shout out” to mean special greeting, as in, “I’d like to give a shout out to all the mums visiting from Palmerston North” or whatever. That phrase was already largely gone by the time Americans started using it.

But a lot of the change to New Zealand English has gone the other way: Americanisms replace Kiwi words and phrases. Critics often call this “creeping Americanisation”, and it’s used to criticise everything from American slang, the attempts to impose Halloween on Kiwis, and what is perceived as US-style politics. The list is seemingly endless.

I have two examples. The first was a more recent one: Talk radio replacing the Kiwi talkback radio. I actually only noticed this a couple weeks ago in a piece in a NZ newspaper about online commentary I shared on Facebook. I don’t listen to that sort of radio, so I don’t read about it, either, and that means that I didn’t really have any reason to notice the shift.

When I shared the article on Facebook, I commented on that shift, and wondered whether the change happened “before or after the common Kiwi words 'toilet' and even 'loo' were replaced with the banal American word 'bathroom'". This is the other main change I’ve noticed over the past year or two.

When I first started work in New Zealand and my workmates would say something like “Be right back. Just going to the toilet”, my American ears were surprised. I quickly learned that the word was common, and so was the more delicate (to American ears) British word loo. But nowadays, I often hear radio and TV presenters refer to “the bathroom” when they mean the toilet (as in “public bathroom”, as well as the phrase I first heard more than 20 years ago). But the use of the banal “bathroom” is most common, I think, among younger New Zealanders. Critics would argue that they’re immersed in American culture, from movies and TV shows to music to YouTube videos, but, apart from that last one, that’s been true for decades. What’s so different now? I don’t have an answer to that—maybe it simply has to do with speech that’s acceptable within their peer groups. If so, that would make it similar to a fad, and it might go away, much as the Kiwi slang I encountered when I arrived here has faded.

Whether Kiwi-isms prevail or not isn’t something that anyone can guess. If I were to bet, however, I’d be inclined to wager on the side of “bathroom” taking root here because it’s constantly reinforced in NZ popular media. The “talk radio” v. “talkback radio” thing, however, is probably one that nobody much cares about.

But for me, the worst part of this shifting of language is that I’ve become so used to the adoption of Americanisms that I don’t even remember that the words used to be different. I can sometimes notice it if I read something published before the shift and see the old word or phrase, a bit like reading a novel from the past and noticing all the odd phrases or slang—except in this case it’s noticing what used to be not so very long ago.

It’s worth noting that sometimes Americans’ adopt of words or phrases that originated in this part of the world, like the phrase, “at the end of the day” (which was popularised by NZ rugby commentary and is still commonly used here). There have actually been many times when a friend has made a comment on Facebook and I have to stop and think where I first heard the particular word or phrase they’re using (because at first I think it’s Kiwi).

I don’t think most New Zealanders ever think about this sort of stuff. Americans don’t, either (unless it’s to complain about Spanish words entering common use…). I think the fact that I notice at all is probably because I’m an immigrant and it’s words and phrases from my homeland I see being adopted. So, I may have a sensitivity to change that someone born here just wouldn’t normally have.

The one thing we know for certain is that the English language evolves wherever it exists, in New Zealand, in the USA, everywhere. Occasional petty annoyances with some adoptions aside, I think this is a really good thing, overall. It keeps the language alive and fresh and always moving toward the future. I do wonder, though, if we’ll still understand each other when we get there.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

It should be obvious

This should be so obvious that it doesn’t need to be said, but, times being what they are, it clearly does: Today’s shooting of a US Representative is inexcusable. There can be no defence of the attack itself, nor of the person who perpetrated it. End of story. Except, of course, it isn’t.

The USA’s politics are often described as “polarised”, and they are, but that word is far, FAR too kind: US politics have become utterly toxic. The political divide in the USA is now deep, angry, and seemingly unbridgeable, with both sides unable to agree on anything whatsoever.

I have my own views, often expressed on this blog, about why this is now the state of politics in the USA, but it doesn’t really matter what I or anyone else thinks, not when so many people quite literally hate those they disagree with—regardless of which “side” they or their adversary are on (even the same “side”). How is it even remotely possible to talk about “restoring civility” and the like when people don’t see their opponents as human?

Another thing that should be obvious: Not all people, however partisan they may be, are as aggressive and bitter as those who scream the loudest on social media. Hardly any are actually violent or likely to ever become so, but it doesn’t take many violent people to upend everything, nor does it take many vitriolic partisans to poison the discussion for everyone, making civil discourse impossible and screaming matches certain.

Anyone can point at the fringe voices that have made vitriol their standard response, aggression their standard procedure, and who have helped legitimise offensive speech. The only real difference between the “Bernie Bros” of the Left and the “Alt Right” white supremacists on the Right is some ideology—which, it must be noted, is usually partly or wholly inconsistent with their erstwhile fellow travellers on their side of centre.

Because of this, claiming that only “the other side” is responsible for the current disgusting nature of US politics—as always happens when there’s something like this shooting—is merely part of that same sick politics, boiled in its broth of seething resentment and baked within its self-righteous shell. This is one of those rare times when we can legitimately and fairly say, “a pox on both their houses.”

I have no solutions to offer. I have suggestions, sure, things that might, maybe, help turn down the volume and heat a bit, but no one’s looking for solutions. Maybe there’s too much money to be made by enabling the twisted anti-human frenzy?

So, we are left knowing two things. First, there can be no defence of the attack itself, nor of the person who perpetrated it. The second thing is the worst part: It will happen again.

That IS obvious.

Book Talk: ‘Happily Ever After’

Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One [Kindle edition] by Chas Addams

This is not a new book, nor is it one I read recently. It is, however, a book to which I have strong nostalgic ties, which makes it all the more surprising that I didn’t mention the book before now.

To begin, the review I left on Amazon’s site (via Goodreads):
This is a collection of cartoons by Chas Addams, many of which had been unpublished. They give an overview of Addams' offbeat and often macabre humour. His cartoons inspired the 1960s TV series "The Addams Family", and some of the cartoons in this collection hint at that.

One drawback with the Kindle edition is that the captions are sometimes on a different page than the cartoon they refer to. Not the end of the world, sure, but it interrupts the flow and the visual aesthetic of what is mostly a book of illustrations.

I bought this book because my parents had a copy of his book, "Addams and Evil" when I was growing up, and I spent many hours looking at that book. Fortunately, some of those cartoons are included in this collection, along with ones I'd never seen. Together, they reminded me of what I liked about Addams all those years ago.

All of which makes this a good basic collection of Addams' cartoons, though it would be nice to see some of his older books re-issued. Still, it's a good place to start.
That review because is the gist of what I think of the book, including the flaws with the Kindle edition (reviews on Amazon criticised the print edition as being “cheaply printed”, and I’ll have to take them at their word). Were it available, I’d have preferred Addams and Evil, his 1947 anthology I mentioned in the review—it was a better anthology, I think—but the virtue of this one is that it includes cartoons from later in Addams’ career, which is a good thing.

But as is sometimes the case, this one book alone isn’t all there is to the story: Addams’ work was a beginning point for me.

I spent hours trawling through Addams and Evil when I was a kid (I’d already seen The Addams Family TV show by then), and I loved it. Whether this is where it began, or Addams merely touched a part of my personality and sense of humour, I went on to become a fan of comics that were somewhat outside the mainstream, such as “The Far Side” by Gary Larson, or the “Life in Hell” comics by Matt Groening, who is now better known for The Simpsons and Futurama. I bought Groening’s Work is Hell book when it was published in 1986.

So, Chas Addams prepared me to like cartoons that were offbeat, often darker, sometimes macabre, and not necessarily totally mainstream. In other words, all the things that, say, Mary Worth wasn’t.

However, throughout, I’ve preferred cartoons published in newspapers and magazines—both mainstream and, especially, alternative—mainly because of ease of access. When I was younger, I thought that all comic books were about super heroes, which didn’t interest me very much. If I’d only known.

My sense of humour still favours the offbeat, often darker, and sometimes macabre themes I’ve enjoyed ever since I first encountered Chas Addams work when I was a child. This book, while far from perfect, was a wonderful reminder of what I loved so much when I was a kid, and what I still love.

What I read: Happily Ever After: A Collection of Cartoons to Chill the Heart of Your Loved One by Chas Addams, Kindle Edition, 176 pages (print edition), Published by Simon & Schuster, June 16, 2008.

Footnote: I bought the book in January, sort of a birthday present to myself, and I posted the review to Goodreads in February—just about the time we were getting ready to move, which explains everything: I didn’t have time to blog about it then, nor since then, either, apparently. Also, this post contains an affiliate link to Amazon.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Remembering the victims of the Pulse shooting

One year ago, a gunman entered Pulse, an LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando, Florida. It was Latin Night. He then murdered 49 innocent people, and wounded 53 more. The victims must never be forgotten. These videos are one way to remember those we lost.

TIME has also posted the anniversary service for survivors and families (the video is an hour and a half long):

Monday, June 12, 2017

Winter wonderland

Winter days in Auckland can be some of the best of the year: Clear, sunny days with brilliant light and fresh air. But skies don’t have to be cloudless to be brilliant: Clouds can also be brilliant. But good weather or bad, Auckland’s winter is always better than what I experienced in my native Illinois, and that’s a good thing all on its own.

Early this morning, it was a bit cold, with fog. But unlike the pervasive fog we can get in winter, it was more like a cloud had come in for a landing, lying close to the ground.

As the sun rose, the fog lifted, but it made it a prettier day. I took the photo above from our deck mainly because I thought the clouds and shadows were nice. But it was actually my second photo of the morning.

I took the photo below first, after I’d looked out and saw drops on the clothesline in the light of the rising sun. I thought it was pretty and decided to go take a photo. I then looked over, saw the scene in the photo above, and went up onto the deck to take that photo. I decided it was a better photo for Instagram, and that’s why I posted it instead.

A nice start to the day, sure, but the real story behind this photo is that it was all actually at the end of my day.

I’d been up all night working, finishing around 7am this morning. That’s something that doesn’t happen very often fortunately—I’m not as able to cope with all-nighters as I could when I was half my age—but this month it did happen, and I survived. I needed to stay up a little longer to take my medication, so I was awake (and, apparently, aware enough) to take these photos.

Photo opportunities aside, the best thing from my perspective is that our winter mornings don’t have snow, rarely have frosts (and not severe ones when they do happen), and never get anywhere near as cold as I experienced in Illinois. That probably makes it easier for me to appreciate the beauty of Auckland’s winter days, whether subtle or obvious. These days I’m also likely to have my phone—and its camera—with me.

That’s the story of how these photos came to be, and also of what a nice winter morning we had today—what I saw of it.

Foreign support

There are few topics more controversial for men than choice of underwear. A potential source of anxiety in the changing rooms at the gym, or a source of possible social ostracism in ordinary conversation, it is a topic that many men will avoid—unless it’s to avoid talking about “men’s health” (better known as prostate exams), penis size, and other things men are uncomfortable talking about. My more serious problem was the need for foreign sourcing.

I’ve preferred the same brand of underwear for decades, and it’s a choice akin to publicly stating that one likes Abba or The Carpenters (which I always have…), so I won’t mention the brand, but it’s what the ad up top from the mid 1980s is for (actually, the real reason I’m not mentioning the brand is because they haven’t paid me to do so; that’s a joke, too…).

In all seriousness, I started buying the brand regularly sometime in the 1970s, and my initial reasons were the cost (they’ve always been inexpensive), they were 100% cotton (I could wash them in hot water with bleach to keep them fresh), and they were comfortable. Later, the fact that they were made in the USA made me especially loyal.

By the 1980s, men were switching to colour underwear, but I stuck with my white briefs—and still do. This was a source of amusement to Nigel, who called my underwear “old man undies” or “grandpa undies”. In fact, he still does. That didn’t deter me then or now.

What did cause me problems, however, was the fact that the brand isn’t sold in New Zealand, and sooner or later, a boy needs new underwear. My choice was to try something different (What? CHANGE?!) or to find a substitute. I decided on the latter.

I found some white mostly cotton briefs at The Warehouse (a New Zealand discount store chain) which were okay and were my choice for a couple years—right up until, as is typical for The Warehouse, they abruptly stopped carrying them. I found a different brand at K-Mart (which in New Zealand is a subsidiary of an Australian retail corporation). They, too, dropped the white briefs.

I tried Jockey, which I could get at Farmer’s (NZ department store), and while white, and mostly cotton, were every bit as uncomfortable as I’d remembered: I kept “falling out” of them. ‘Nuff said.

I realised that I had no choice but to order my usual brand from the USA, and there it gets tricky.

There was a NZ online store that I could order them from—at something like $7-$10 per pair (roughly 5 to 7 US dollars each). I like that brand, but not THAT much.

Many US retailers won’t ship overseas, and while there is a way around that (a subject in itself), I decided the easiest way was to order them through Amazon. And that brought me to other barriers.

The NZ dollar has been weaker against the US dollar, so buying products from Amazon USA is more expensive than it used to be. I kept waiting, hoping that the Kiwi dollar would strengthen, and it just hasn’t (mostly because our interest rates are low).

Things began to get critical: The waistbands in my pairs of K-Mart undies were beginning to quit their jobs, opening up holes. In general, they were looking more and more tatty, and I could hear my mother’s voice in my head, “always put on good underwear when you go very far from home in case you’re in an accident.” If I had been, the ambulance crew may have concluded I was derelict, because my undies certainly were.

So, I went ahead and went to Amazon to place my order. I was in luck: The packs had 8 pairs instead of the usual 7—bonus! Since I was ordering from Amazon, and had to pay their high shipping charges, I decided I may as well order a few books that had been on my wishlist for awhile, so I picked three and was ready to place my order—and I paused: How many packs of underwear should I buy? One? More?

I was well aware that the briefs have changed over the years—thinner fabric, changes to the waistband, etc.—so I thought I might not like the current version. But then I thought about how much trouble this has all been, and I ordered two packs, thinking if they were okay I’d order a couple more sooner rather than later.

I placed the order Sunday, May 28 (my time), and the order shipped on May 31. They told me the order, in two parts, would arrive on Friday the 16th and Monday the 19th. They actually arrived Friday the 9th and Saturday the 10th. I mention this because I chose the cheapest shipping, which normally takes the longest, and yet it actually took less time than the second-most expensive shipping option I chose last time. I thought that was a reasonable turnaround.

The new underwear are no longer 100% cotton (the package doesn’t even list cotton, actually), and the fabric is thinner, but still better made than what I used to buy from The Warehouse. It’s also now “Hecho en El Salvador”, as a sticker on the package informed me; the brands I bought in New Zealand were made in China or elsewhere in Asia, so country of manufacture no longer matters to me. [UPDATE: The package doesn't say anything, but the sticker that says where they were made does say "100% cotton" in small-ish letters]

Now that the new underwear has arrived, the worst of the old underwear has been binned, because, unlike my mother, I won’t use old underpants as cleaning rags—I didn’t like it when she did it when I was a kid, and nothing’s made me change my mind. I did keep the least awful pairs for my emergency supply, part of my “Get Thru” preparations in case disaster strikes the day before laundry day. Be prepared, and all that.

I’ll probably buy more underwear sooner rather than later, and will probably finish off my book wishlist (most of the others on the list are Kindle books, which I can get at any time). While I don’t actually care what anyone thinks about my underwear preference, I nevertheless do think it’s an interesting challenge to find an overseas source for a product unavailable here, and then finding ways to get that product. Global community, eh?

And finally, a couple more videos to round out this topic. First up, a commercial from the late 1980s, when the “fruit guys” were starting to be phased out:

To finish this off, here’s something completely different: A parody music video making fun of the commercials, and country music video tropes at the same time. Because even a topic like this allows me to find new things.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Brian Hyland

Last weekend, I shared some things I’d learned about the movie of the musical South Pacific as I was researching an unrelated blog post. It’s happened again, but this time because of what another blogger shared.

My pal Roger Green posted “Itsy bitsy teenny weeny yellow polkadot bikini”, a post about that “novelty song” (video up top). It was an interesting post on its own, as his are, but there was one important thing I didn’t know until I read the post: The name of the artist who recorded it.

I learned his name is Brian Hyland, something I’d never learned. But the record artwork that Roger shared made him look really young, so I looked him up and learned that we was sixteen (!) when he had the hit. There were two things about this. First, I’d heard the song on the radio for years and always assumed it was someone considerably older.

The other thing is that I’m pretty sure if I’d known about him when I was a kid I’d probably have fancied him. I can’t know that for sure—I was an infant when the song was a hit (he’s a little more than fifteen years older than me (he’s 73 nowadays)—but I know that when I was a little boy I liked male singers who were fairly pretty and non-threatening, much like the boys that little girls of the same age liked, and that’s what he looked like in the early part of his career.

But that all kind of fell by the way side as I found out more about his career, and found out there were other songs of his I didn’t know were his.

First up was in 1962 hit “Sealed with a Kiss”, which made it to Number 3 in the USA. I’d always assumed someone else had recorded that (I think that as a kid I thought it was the Everly Brothers or someone similar). Here’s his song:

I didn’t see any other songs I recognised as I read through the rest of his singles until I saw “Gypsy Woman” (the version below is audio only). It was another song I thought was by someone I’d heard of, but as with “Sealed with a Kiss”, I could never quite put my finger on who it was—it “sounded kinda like…” but that’s as far as a I got.

There’s a YouTube video of him singing the song on a TV show some years later, though I don’t know when it was recorded. The performance is incomplete.

So, because of Roger’s post I found out the name of the artist who did a song I’d literally grown up with. And, because I was curious, I also learned he’d recorded two more songs I was very familiar with. So, I ended up finding out who recorded three songs I knew, all because of one blog post. This is what I like about blogging: I tend to learn stuff because of where posts lead me.

And finally, as a sort of bonus, I also ran across a cover of “Sealed with a Kiss” I was unfamiliar with: It was by Jason Donovan, an Australian actor and pop artist whose version entered the UK chart at number one in 1989. I’m sharing it because I think he did a pretty good job with the song, but also because the video is SO 80s! I actually think the video is pretty bad for an era when there actually were a lot of really good ones made; this just wasn’t one of those good videos, I don’t think. Because he wasn’t popular in the USA, I’d never heard of him until I moved to New Zealand, and even then I wasn’t really familiar with anything he’d done (though I quickly learned that he’d worked with Kylie Minogue).

The things you learn because of blogs…

Saturday, June 10, 2017

15 Years a NZ citizen

Fifteen years ago today, June 10, 2002, I became a citizen of New Zealand. Life has mostly just ticked along since that day, as it tends to do, in very ordinary ways. In fact, this anniversary has been so behind-the-scenes all these years that I don’t remember it without prompting. This year? It seems a bit more important than previous years.

I became a New Zealand citizen, as I said the only time I talked in depth about this, back in 2014, because, basically, the country had taken a chance on me in 1995, and I felt I owed it to the country to make a commitment in return. It really wasn’t any more complicated than that. Besides, by then New Zealand was clearly home.

In 2002, George W. Bush was nearing the midpoint of his first term. I opposed Bush (and never voted for him), and I was deeply concerned about what his regime would do to the USA, but that was pretty much the extent of it. After all, in the years between when I took part in my first presidential campaign at age 17, the person I backed had won only twice out of seven elections. So, I was used to being opposed to whoever the president was.

In 2002, Helen Clark was in her first term as Prime Minister, and New Zealand voters were heading to the polls in just under seven weeks. They would hand the National Party and its leader, Bill English, their worst-ever defeat—only 21% of the vote—thereby giving Helen Clark and Labour their second term in government.

Things are a bit different 15 years later.

Obviously I never supported the guy who became the titular US president in January this year, but this time it’s not just about opposing him: Unlike any other time in my life, I have very grave concerns about what will/could happen to my native land if that man remains in office—and other, equally serious concerns about the man who would replace him if Don is forced out or resigns. For the first time in my life, I’m profoundly grateful that I have a second passport.

New Zealand voters are going to the polls on Saturday, September 23, and this time Bill English is Prime Minister, following the sudden, surprise resignation of John Key late last year. At the moment, English and National are polling well enough to win the election and a fourth term in government—though the election is a very long time from now by New Zealand standards, and things could change completely.

Other things have changed, too. Australia has changed the way it treats New Zealand citizens living in their country, so the benefits of being a NZ citizen living in Australia that I obtained when I became a citizen are now nearly all gone. Not that it matters for me personally, but it’s a major change nevertheless.

There’s one more difference between now and then: In 2002, my blog was more than four years away, and my podcast was the better part of five. I haven’t given up on either, despite lately sometimes feeling that I should, and in my head I keep planning on ways to do more.

The reality is that, overall, things are far less hopeful than they were 15 years ago, for both the countries of which I’m a citizen*. I’m not sure there are enough Republicans in the US Congress to join Democrats to do what needs to be done to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, as they’ve all sworn to do. I’m also not sure that New Zealand voters have the desire to turn away from the tired and complacent National Party government to embrace forward-looking change.

However, “less hopeful” is absolutely NOT the same thing as hopeless. In fact, hope is the thing that often matters most of all.

Looking at the world as it is today, and comparing it to the one 15 years ago, it would be easy to be despondent or resigned or fatalistic. That’s not me. No matter how bad things may seem most days now, I choose to believe that they can get better, that they will get better, despite everything.

Hope is a powerful force: It’s what brought me to this country in the first place, and it’s what makes me continue to believe—no matter what—that the future will be better, even if there are a few bumps in that road along the way that make progress seem unlikely. Having hope is a sort of armour against all the bad. In my opinion, hope is not optional.

Today, just like on June 10, 2002, I’m still filled with hope about the future. And, I hope that’s proven to be justified.

*I am what’s called a “dual national”, a citizen of both the USA and of New Zealand.

In the photo at the top of this post, George Wood, who at the time was the Mayor of the former North Shore City, shakes my hand to officially congratulate me on becoming a new New Zealand citizen. Waiting nearby was Diane Hale, who at the time was Deputy Mayor. I originally published the photo in the post in 2014 that I mentioned in this post.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Winter kitty

Today I spotted Bella sleeping in a particularly unusual—and warm—spot (photo above). We’ve had a bit of a cold snap the past few days (it was 6 degrees, about 42.8F, at around 7 this morning), but I’ve found her at that spot on warmer days, too. She likes to be warm.

This isn’t yet the coldest part of winter—ordinarily that’d probably be next month—but over the past couple days we’ve had the coldest temperatures we’ve experienced this winter, so I certainly notice the coldness. Bella, however, always finds the warmest spots to sleep—maybe I should just follow her around.

We might still have a mild winter. That’s happened some years, others have been very cold. Regardless, I’m sure I’ll see Bella in this or similar spots again.

She’s a good—and warm—kitty.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

NOT speaking to the American people

There’s been a very noticeable talking point spouted by every one of Don’s apologists when they’re trying to defend the often unhinged Tweeting by the titular 45th president. They always say that “he’s speaking directly to the American people.” Oh, really? It’s an incredibly laughable and silly attempt at spin, and a pretty brazen lie. They know that, but it’s irrelevant to them and their goal.

Here’s why the claim is false: There are approximately 70 million frequent American users of Twitter, out of 328 million users worldwide. Pew Research found that in 2016 a mere 21% of Americans who used the Internet—not 21% of all Americans—were on Twitter.

Don has 31.8 million followers, which is a lot, absolutely, but he’s not even among the top 20 Twitter users as ranked by number of followers (former President Barack Obama is ranked third, behind Justin Bieber and Katy Perry). Don is ranked 33rd, placing him just above One Direction and behind BBC Breaking News.

So, Don isn’t all that popular in the larger picture, and he doesn’t even reach half of American Twitter users—who are fewer than 25% of Americans who use the Internet. So, that means that—being extremely generous—Don reaches at the very most far fewer than 10 percent of all Americans.

And yet Republicans and Don’s sycophants say Don uses Twitter to talk directly to the American people.

Let’s look at some more numbers. Don received 62,979,636 votes in the 2016 election, which was, of course, some 3 million fewer votes than Hillary Clinton did. So, Don’s Twitter followers are fewer than half than the number of people who voted for him alone—and fewer than a quarter of people who voted.

And yet, Republicans and Don’s sycophants say Don uses Twitter to talk directly to the American people.

Raw numbers aside, who follows Don? When I looked at Don’s followers, Twitter said that there were 162 followers I “might know”. Those people were all either journalists, political commentators, politicians, and/or political activists who absolutely do not support Don. What percentage of all his followers would fall into those categories? What percentage is even American? We have no idea.

So, if you deduct all the journalists, media types and activists throughout the world who follow Don, and also deduct the trolls, this means that the actual number of Americans that Don actually “speaks directly to” through Twitter is pretty insignificant.

And yet, Republicans and Don’s sycophants say Don uses Twitter to talk directly to the American people.

What all of this means is that most Americans who hear about Don’s Twitter tantrums probably hear about them only through newsmedia reports, most of which aren’t entirely favourable. If the newsmedia stopped reporting on Don’s Twitter tantrums, then the number of the American people that Don would be talking to would be very few indeed.

And yet, Republicans and Don’s sycophants would STILL say Don uses Twitter to talk directly to the American people.

As with so many things about Don’s regime, this isn’t about truth or facts, it’s about spin and propaganda. Republicans and Don’s sycophants know very well how few Americans Don is actually talking to, and how few of them actually care or agree with those Tweets. But they can still claim that he’s speaking “directly to the American people” because, in a sense, his is: Few Americans, maybe not the most engaged or sympathetic Americans, but they never actually claim otherwise.

The goal of Republicans and Don’s sycophants is to reinforce their narrative that journalists “lie” and newspapers and media companies are purveyors of “fake news”, and that only Don tells the truth, and he uses Twitter to bypass those “lying” purveyors of “fake news”. They want to undermine the news media and to sow distrust of truth and facts. They’re not really trying to defend Don’s often bizarre Tweets, they’re trying to sell a narrative.

And that’s why it’s important to debunk the incredibly laughable and silly attempt at spin by Republicans and Don’s sycophants. But as long as the newsmedia reports on Don’s Twitter tantrums, that won’t matter at all, and far too many people will accept the talking point.

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Some voters are walking

Voters in the USA now back the Democratic Party more than the Republican Party by 7 points, according to the latest poll from Gallup (above). This the biggest lead Democrats have had in two years, leading Gallup to call it “an encouraging sign for the Democratic Party's election prospects in 2018.” Is it?

The poll shows that Democratic affiliation has not grown this year, but Republican affiliation has been dropping steadily. This is "The Trump Effect", because the drop off in Republican support came without an increase in support for Democrats. Clearly, that’s Don's fault: Republicans are running away from their embarrassing president, but they’re not flocking to the alternative.

When Gallup suggests that this is good news for Democrats' chances in 2018, they’re partly right, but it’s not a simple, direct path.

As always, Democrats must 1) get the 45% that supports them to the polls, 2) convince enough Independents to vote for Democratic candidates, and maybe even 3) convince at least some of those disaffected Republicans to punish their own party by voting Democratic.

Because of the drop in Republican affiliation without a corresponding rise in Democratic affiliation, at the moment the poll results show that Democrats best hope is that these disaffected Republicans will simply stay home in 2018. This would actually be a good thing: Because of gerrymandering, Republicans have a manufactured advantage in Congressional elections. If enough Republicans stay home, it could tip the balance in Congressional Districts that Republicans created to ensure they win.

A complicating factor here is that it’s notoriously difficult to get voters to go the polls in Midterm Elections in ordinary years. Without a presidential candidate to rally around, many Democratic affiliated voters stay home, and the lack of the clear focus that a presidential candidate offers may give Republicans no incentive to vote Democratic.

On the other hand, it’s still around 17 months until the 2018 elections, and if the chaos in Washington continues—and if Don remains in office, that’s a sure bet—then over time some of those disaffected Republicans may change party affiliation because of it. Meanwhile, more of them will certainly become disaffected. While some disaffected Republican voters will probably vote Democratic in reaction to the chaos, some will become even more likely to stay home on election day.

At the same time, while Democrats normally have trouble getting their supporters to the polls for a Midterm Election, it will probably be different in 2018 given the strength of the opposition to Don. At the moment, a higher-than-normal turnout of Democratic affiliated voters is probable in 2018, and with enough Independents joining them, they could retake Congress and state legislatures and stop Don in his tracks.

But 17 months is a VERY long time. Don will not go down without a fight, and Republicans will fight back with anything they can find. We can expect to see them try to scaremonger, as the party did successfully in 2002 and 2004, and less successfully 2006, as well as using the sort of propaganda-based distraction campaigns they ran in the run-up to the 2016 elections. If Don triggers a war or incites a major terrorist attack, which is possible, then all bets are off.

But barring a dramatic development or Don leaving office, the path forward is clear. Which is exactly why no one should expect it to remain that way.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Talking to the other side

The video above from Vox, though highly problematic, is nevertheless useful as a lesson in how to talk to conservatives about issues that we on the centre-left care about and what their support on—or, at least, their lack of opposition. There’s nothing new in the advice, nor its proven utility, but in light of the recent activity in Washington, DC, it’s especially good to take heed.

Vox originally posted the video on YouTube about a month ago, but this weekend they shared it on their Facebook Page, which I follow. I shared it on the AmeriNZ Facebook Page, where I said:
In politics, most successful messaging is a form of framing, which means, in its simplest form, it's not merely about WHAT we say, it's about HOW we say it. So, to win over rational conservatives, we need to talk about the aspects that matter to them. That's partly what this video is about (though it could have gone into more specifics).

I personally experienced this in the fight for marriage equality. Our side talked about rights and fairness and justice, but once we started talking about the issue in conservative terms, like responsibility and commitment, that was when the shift happened and more conservative and centre-right folks started to support marriage equality. I personally did that, and so did the professionals running the various campaigns. Sure, we still talked about fairness and justice and the like, but only part of the time, not exclusively, and not usually when more conservative folks were the intended or probable recipients of the message.

I think we need to do the same thing about the environment. The phrase "climate change" has become so hyper-politicised and hyper-partisan that it's now almost meaningless, and totally useless for political debate. CLEARLY it's not working, so why don't we try something else? That's really all this is about.
The personal experience I was referring to is something I talked about in some detail a couple years ago in a post about the book Defining Marriage. I said:
Toward the end of the book, Matt [Baume] talks about the profound change in strategy in 2012, a change that led to victory in four out of four states in which marriage equality was on the ballot. Like most people, I wasn’t aware any of that was going on, though I did notice that the ads seemed much better in 2012.

However, sometime later I saw an article about how to talk about marriage equality. Instead of “rights”, it said, talk about commitment and responsibility. Instead of justice or equality, talk about freedom, and, most especially, talk about love. I took that advice to heart.

I’ve never mentioned this before, but when New Zealand had its own battle for marriage equality, I shifted my own rhetoric based on that advice. For example, a typical way I phrased it was, “the government should allow loving same-gender couples to make the same legal and public commitment to each other as opposite-gender couples”.

I still used the term “marriage equality”, since it was by then already well established in the public discourse, but I also started using “freedom to marry”. But I always talked about love, commitment, responsibility—all the things the radical right claimed we were incapable of, but that the people we needed to win over valued.
So in that instance, we could actually see the shift happen as we changed our language from what we wanted to hear to what they wanted to hear, the people we wanted to win over. There’s no reason not to do the same thing with other issues, too. I do that all the time.

This is not about mere spin, though it may look like that. Instead, there’s a more subtle thing going on, emphasising the aspects of an issue that the intended audience can relate to, words and phrases that resonate with that audience. For example, I often talk about liberty and freedom instead of rights because that particular aspect of what civil and human rights are about resonates with rational people on the right. If I want them to listen to what I have to say, why not speak to them on their terms, using the language they connect with?

The rightwing has tried this, too, with little success. The best example I can think of is one that affects me personally: Attempts to market their agenda to LGBT people.

The Right tried to sell their islamophobia to LGBT people (and Liberals generally) by asking us why we’d support the Democrats and their attempts at diplomacy when radical islamists what to kill LGBT people. Similarly, in while trying to legalise anti-LGBT discrimination, which they frame as “religious liberty” or the simpler “religious freedom”, they ask why we oppose them when Islamic countries often put LGBT people to death, and they’d never do that.

The reason the right’s attempts to sell their policies to us failed is that they were so obviously insincere. We’re well aware that they’re not really concerned about radical islamist terrorists killing LGBT people, like in Orlando, for example (at the time, remember, most of them refused to even acknowledge that it even WAS an attack on LGBT people). We also know that they’re being dishonest in pointing out that some Islamic countries execute LGBT people because all know damn well that given the chance many of them would back the USA doing the same.

So, any attempt to use the language of one’s opponent to win them over is doomed to fail if those words are insincere, or pandering, or condescending, or simply inauthentic. Instead, this is about using words that are true, relevant, sincere, and authentic to both sides. That’s why it worked in the marriage equality debate—we obviously really meant the words we used.

So, when talking with conservatives who oppose action to stop climate change, it makes far more sense to talk about the issues where we can have agreement—like the need for clean air and water, for example—and to do using words they identify with. Same for reducing use of fossil fuels: It doesn’t have to be about reducing greenhouse gasses, it can be about national security, energy independence, reducing terrorism, the huge potential for economic growth and technological innovation by embracing clean, renewable energy. ALL of those things are true and matter to conservatives, so why not talk about them?

I’m well aware that some on the Leftward side of Left utterly reject this whole idea, and would rather fail completely and remain ideologically pure than win some (or even all…) of what they want simply because they refuse to change how they talk about the issues. As I’ve long said, I’m a pragmatist and would rather win part of what I want now while I work on the rest than lose everything just so to be able claim some sort of quixotic ideological purity.

Speaking of ideology, this video could have spent a little more time talking about specifics about how to talk to conservatives, and maybe a little less with ideological point scoring, but it's still a good pointer to a way forward.

And, finally, there’s also this: What we’ve been doing clearly hasn’t won them over, and we don’t yet have enough support to act without them. It’s time to try something different.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Weekend Diversion: Learning because of blogging

The thing about blogging is that to do a halfway decent job, it’s impossible to NOT learn new things. That could come as the result of wanting to know more about a topic, because of fact-checking oneself, or sort of accidentally while working on a post. All of them have happened to me many times, but today I learned something more or less by accident.

The title of my previous post, about where I think I might live if I ever returned to the USA, was a reference to a line in the song "Bali Ha'i" from the musical South Pacific. I wanted to fact-check that song, both for the spelling and to make sure that the line was actually in the song (I’ve learned from experience that these days I should trust but verify my memory).

I could have just looked up the lyrics, but instead I watched a couple YouTube videos of the scene from the 1958 film of the musical, and that’s when I learned something new.

The film—and scene—starred African American actress Juanita Hall reprising her Broadway role as Bloody Mary, which she’d performed some 900 times. However, apparently by the time the film was made, Hall’s voice had changed and she had trouble hitting the high notes. So, her singing was dubbed, replacing her vocal with Muriel Smith, who played Bloody Mary in the London production of the play. If I was into trivia about films or musicals, I might have known all that, but I’m not, so I didn’t.

The video up top is of the scene where Bloody Mary (Hall) performs the song, but the singing is actually Hall’s own (presumably taken from a Broadway cast recording). The YouTube Channel the video is from has other movie scenes with the actual actress’ voice instead of whoever was dubbed in.

Compare the version above with the original film version, using Smith’s voice:

Probably none of this is important—both actresses are long gone, after all—but I think it’s interesting, and even more so to hear what it might have sounded like if it wasn’t dubbed.

On a side note, when I was younger, I looked down on the old “warhorse” musicals like South Pacific, until I saw a stage production and realised it was really about racism, prejudice, and bigotry (I hadn’t yet seen the movie at that point). Showboat (1927), widely credited as the first modern play in Broadway musical theatre for taking on serious subjects, similarly dealt with racism and prejudice. It was actually because of being willing to look at those old shows with an open mind that I began to appreciate musical theatre in general.

But today I learned a new thing about the movie version of a Broadway show I’ve now seen produced several times, and it was all because I was writing a post about something entirely different and unrelated, really, and I needed to check a couple things.

This is a good thing about blogging, I think.